Before I present a hefty serving of photos and generous dollops of love for America, I think there’s one issue here about the American airport that everyone needs to know.
Three months ago, when Quentin told me that he needed to go to the States for work, I was chuffed to bits! I had always wanted to see America with my own eyes – after a decade of being obsessed with American TV shows and movies, I was in dire need to know whether the media has been accurately portraying the façade of America.
Is it true that people are more chatty and friendly? Is it true that some of them carry firearms while going about their daily business in public? Is it true that all Chinese “takeout” comes with complementary fortune cookie and is served in paper-board container like this??
OK. Maybe I wasn’t in dire need to know. But I did feel very strongly about getting the true picture of a country, because before coming to England, I thought every guy looks like David Beckham and the world is akin to the one in Harry Potter.
I was pretty imaginative.
So, Quentin flew over to Kansas City (where the headquarters of his company is based) one month ahead of me. After sorting out my US Visa and finishing my final exams, I set off alone to see him. The planned itinerary was to take an 8-hour flight from London to Philadelphia, and then a 2-hour flight to Kansas City with a 2-hour stopover in between. It didn’t sound that bad really, except the truth was tedious and taxing.
Transits in other countries are usually uncomplicated and quick. But the States have to go the extra mile to make themselves special and everyone else’s lives harder.
If you have a transit in America, you’ll need to go through the customs, re-claim your luggage and check in (again) to your next destination, whereas in other countries you just need to follow the transit sign, pass through security and effortlessly back into the terminals.
Almost immediately after the flight touched down in Philadelphia, I was given a set of new boarding pass, which I didn’t give much thought about. Instinctively I followed the sign and got to the customs. There was a long queue and the English lady behind me was whining about how inefficient the American system is and how she would not be able to make it to her next flight scheduled to depart in one and a half hour. How impatient, I thought.
But oh boy, it didn’t take long for me to realise that she couldn’t be more right.
After a 30-minute wait at the customs, I proceeded to reclaim my luggage and moved to the counter to (re)check in to my next flight. The subsequent security checkpoint was another round of hassle. Despite not stepping out of the airport, everyone had to go through all the standard procedures (again) for security purposes – I had to take off my shoes, repack the liquids into re-sealable bag, show my laptop and iPad, then pass a body scan.
The clock was ticking and the airport was huge with 7 terminals spread out across the premises. I was frantic with worry. When I got to the boarding gate, I was told that it had been changed and I had to move again.
(Similar incident happened during my trip back to London. The boarding gate number was changed and there wasn’t any rectification, neither on the boarding pass nor the flight information display board).
I couldn’t feel more nettled.
As flight arrival gate doubled as flight departure gate, the hall was as chaotic as a battlefield, with crowds of passengers moving in both directions and flight announcements criss-crossing each other in the air, walking from one point to another was like a typical round of Modern Warfare.
And predictably, by the time I got to the new boarding gate, my flight had departed.
So here’s a note from the lady at the customer service desk,
“If you miss your connecting flight, Don’t worry. Calm down. IT’S OK, IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL. You will be fine.”
Isn’t this one of the most baffling statements one can possibly make?
I cannot stomach the fact that it is “normal” to miss a connecting/transit flight, especially in an international airport where operational processes are supposed to be efficient and streamlined.
I also cannot accept that it is “OK” to wait a few more hours for the next flight or, worse, be redirected to an alternate and possibly longer route to my destination because of circumstances that are beyond my own control.
I understand that in a country so big like America, where people rely heavily on air planes to get around, a busy airport is nothing more than a common scene. But, since the airport is such a central component in the country’s social welfare and economic development, shouldn’t more thought, money and effort be put into maintaining or improving its management and operations?
Soon after I missed my flight, I found myself feeling very disoriented because I wasn’t expecting any of that. No one told me that an airport could be so disorganised that I would be punished for mistake that I did not make. I am sure that there are many people out there who would feel the same way like I do the first time they travel into the States.
As I missed the last direct flight from Philly to Kansas City on that day, I was left with no other choice but to wait for another 4 hours to take a 1-hour-30-minute flight to Charlotte, and then a 2-hour flight to my destination, not mentioning that the flight from Charlotte was delayed by an hour because of “problem we do not know”.
I arrived at my destination at 3 in the morning, Quentin and I missed our dinner plan and he had to wake up early for work the next day, which were all fine because these were the things that we could manage.
What was not “OK” was the principle – I didn’t receive the services that I paid for, i.e. to be transported from one specific place to another, at a specific time. When I saw the boarding pass that was handed to me when I landed in Philly, I realised that it was the boarding pass for the alternate route to Kansas City, which means that the possibility of passengers missing their connecting flights was well anticipated by the airline company.
This isn’t OK because we, consumers, were given something different than what was originally agreed on.
Had you known that there was a big chance that you would not make it to your connecting flight, would you have gone ahead and bought the ticket? Wouldn’t you seek for an alternative plan? How does an airline company justify offering services that it isn’t sure it can perform?
A few friends from the States said that it is indeed “normal” to miss connecting flights for various reasons like the first flight is delayed or there is just not enough time to move from one gate to another.
I honestly do not think that it is a matter that one should be “OK” about. Nevertheless, it was literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and hopefully so.
During the four hours in Philly, I met a gracious man in his 50s, who has been travelling around the States almost every week for work, showed me photos of his two adorable grandsons and told me about the outlandish duck march at the Peabody Hotel in Tennessee; I also befriended Carol, a kind bubbly soul living in Dallas, who sends her blessings through emails and enjoys food as much as I do. (Hello Carol, if you are reading this!)
I guess the time spent waiting at the airports wasn’t wasted. I could now confirm that the Americans are a lot more chatty and friendly. Ironically, there are also people who actually carry their guns in public under the “open carry” practice. And the paper-board container used to hold Chinese food? It has a name, called Oyster Pail.
I hope this entry would be helpful to those travelling into the States. If not, it never hurts to learn about something new.
With love x